Often, electrical panels are found in strange places, especially in older homes or DIY renovations that are not up to code. One of these particular places is inside a bathroom.
Electrical breaker boxes should never be located in a bathroom. The National Electrical Code (NEC) expressly excludes locating an electric panel in a bathroom.
NEC guidelines are national standards, but it is up to local municipalities to adopt and enforce the code guidelines. The adoption of these codes can be slow or even non-existent in sparsely populated areas.
Why Should an Electrical Breaker Panel not be Located in a Bathroom?
Building codes only come into play when building a new structure or remodeling. Most areas have only had building codes for 20 to 25 years. The county I live in didn’t have a building and zoning department 25 years ago.
Some remote areas still do not have building code enforcement in place.
Due to water and moisture, a bathroom is not safe for an electric panel breaker. There are much safer locations for an electrical panel breaker than a bathroom.
Water and moisture are not friends of anything electrical. Bathrooms are a source of water and moisture and hence are a terrible location for an electrical breaker panel.
The possibility of tripping the breaker while touching something wet or standing in water is an obvious hazard to avoid at all costs. This risk increases if you have young children who may find the breaker panel an exciting plaything.
Breakers typically found in houses are not rated for exposure to excessive temperatures, gases, vapors, liquids, or anything else that could compromise the integrity and safe operation of the breaker panel.
When you open an electric breaker box located inside a bathroom, you’ll likely find internal components that have rust and corrosion present.
Usually, a breaker panel in a bathroom is because of a previous remodel. Often an old garage has been converted to an additional bathroom, and the breaker panel has remained in its original location.
If having a breaker panel did not violate the building codes during the renovation, you can technically leave the breaker box in the bathroom. However, if your contractor ignores electrical codes, you may have to relocate the breaker box.
No matter the reason, if you have a breaker box inside a bathroom, you should move it, not because the NEC says so, but because it’ll keep your family safer.
See our full article on electrical panel placement
- Electrical Panel Location and Installation: Clearances, Bathrooms, Closets, and NEC
- Moving an Electrical Panel (Everything You Should Know)
- 10 Signs You Need an Electric Panel Upgrade: Safety & Costs to Replace
What Does Moisture do to an Electric Breaker Panel?
If you have a panel located inside a bathroom, moisture will inevitably make its way inside and cause damage. The wiring and circuit breakers will corrode, and you may find the panel box itself rusting.
The hardware of the box, including hinges and screws, will also rust, impeding access to the panel.
Corroded terminals and connections will cause elevated resistance in the circuits, leading to increased heat and a potential fire hazard. If an electrical overload occurs, bad circuit breakers may not trip, causing electrical arc flashes, leading to burns.
Moisture damage inside your breaker panel may not be apparent. If your breaker box has sustained moisture exposure, it is best to call an electrician to check it out and avoid opening the panel yourself. Even finding the slightest bit of visible rust is worth calling an expert in.
An experienced electrician will come equipped with the proper gear to investigate the issue safely. Never attempt to open or dry the breaker panel yourself.
Where Does Moisture Come From?
For indoor breaker panels, condensation is the main culprit behind moisture accumulation.
If the breaker panel is in a bathroom, it will accumulate moisture through the air from showers, baths, etc. If the breaker is in a garage or basement, water or moisture could leak through a crack in the foundation or wall or even a nearby cold water pipe.
How to Clean and Maintain an Electrical Breaker Panel
To clean your breaker panel, wipe everything down with a dry cloth. If you need a bit of extra cleaning power, put a small amount of rubbing alcohol on a cloth or q-tip to reach in small crevasses.
Rubbing alcohol is an excellent choice as it dries quickly and breaks down sticky residue, such as old dust. It won’t add moisture to your panel breaker like water will and so is a safe alternative.
If your breaker panel is under 30 years old, it is a good idea to have it inspected by a professional every 2-3 years. If it is older than 30 years, it may be time to replace it altogether.
A professional will look for a few different things when inspecting your breaker panel. These things include; old fuses, aging fixtures, evidence of fire, and breaker-tripping, which usually signifies deterioration of some sort.
Where can an Electrical Breaker Panel be Located?
A breaker panel must be installed 4 feet from the ground with the handle of the highest circuit breaker no higher than 6 feet 7 inches to be NEC compliant.
Clearance around the panel must be a minimum of 30 inches wide with 3 feet of workspace in the front. The door to the breaker box must open to a 90-degree angle.
Check out our article on electrical breaker panel installation and space requirements for more information.
There are several places to install electrical breaker panels in or around your home.
Basements are perhaps the most common location for a breaker panel. This location is out of the way and usually can meet the space requirements.
Garages are another common area for breaker panels. Space requirements should not be a problem, depending on how cluttered the garage is.
Laundry rooms are another spot you may find an electrical breaker panel. If you have a breaker panel in your laundry room, ensure it is the proper distance from the washing machine (30 inches).
The underside of a staircase is a less-common place to find a breaker panel but will work as long as there is sufficient room.
If there is no basement, garage, or staircase available, the breaker panel will be installed in the home’s central area, as long as you adhere to clearance standards. In an apartment, you can find a breaker panel in a hall or entryway.
Regardless of where they might be, all breaker panel locations tend to have some traits in common;
First and foremost, the location must be safe and accessible. There must be adequate space to access the panel by yourself or an electrician. Enough space for performing repairs or maintenance is required. The breaker panel must not be near any hazards such as water or other corrosive elements.
Secondly, the breaker panels are installed to make the most sense for the electrician. The goal here is to cut down on the number of lengths and runs, saving the electrician time and saving you money.
How Far does Water Need to be from an Electrical Breaker Panel?
Indoor electrical breaker panels should not be:
- near an open water source such as a sink, shower, or toilet
- in a bathroom, sauna, or near an indoor pool
You can install an electrical panel box inside a laundry room.
However, you can install a breaker panel near plumbing pipes without issues. As long as there is sufficient working space for the breaker panel, they can be near each other.
Due to potential hazards, there are many considerations regarding electrical breaker panel location.
Breaker panels must be installed with adequate working space, allowing free and easy access to the breaker box at any given time. Don’t locate a breaker box that can get wet or take on excessive moisture.
You should never install electrical breaker panels in a bathroom, and if you happen to own a home where this is the case, you should relocate the breaker box if possible.
The best locations for breaker panels include basements and garages out of the way and will likely have the space they need around them.
Electrical breaker panels are the hub of your home’s electrical system and need regular inspections and maintenance to ensure safe operation. If you are ever in doubt about the condition of your breaker panel, don’t hesitate to contact a qualified electrician to help you with any issues.